Pathological tau aggregates occur in Alzheimer's disease (AD) and other neurodegenerative tauopathies. It is not clearly understood why tauopathies vary greatly in the neuroanatomical and histopathological patterns of tau aggregation, which contribute to clinical heterogeneity in these disorders. Recent studies have shown that tau aggregates may form distinct structural conformations, known as tau strains. Here, we developed a novel model to test the hypothesis that cell-to-cell transmission of different tau strains occurs in nontransgenic (non-Tg) mice, and to investigate whether there are strain-specific differences in the pattern of tau transmission. By injecting pathological tau extracted from postmortem brains of AD (AD-tau), progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP-tau), and corticobasal degeneration (CBD-tau) patients into different brain regions of female non-Tg mice, we demonstrated the induction and propagation of endogenous mouse tau aggregates. Specifically, we identified differences in tau strain potency between AD-tau, CBD-tau, and PSP-tau in non-Tg mice. Moreover, differences in cell-type specificity of tau aggregate transmission were observed between tau strains such that only PSP-tau and CBD-tau strains induce astroglial and oligodendroglial tau inclusions, recapitulating the diversity of neuropathology in human tauopathies. Furthermore, we demonstrated that the neuronal connectome, but not the tau strain, determines which brain regions develop tau pathology. Finally, CBD-tau- and PSP-tau-injected mice showed spatiotemporal transmission of glial tau pathology, suggesting glial tau transmission contributes to the progression of tauopathies. Together, our data suggest that different tau strains determine seeding potency and cell-type specificity of tau aggregation that underlie the diversity of human tauopathies.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Tauopathies show great clinical and neuropathological heterogeneity, despite the fact that tau aggregates in each disease. This heterogeneity could be due to tau aggregates forming distinct structural conformations, or strains. We now report the development of a sporadic tauopathy model to study human tau strains by intracerebrally injecting nontransgenic mice with pathological tau enriched from human tauopathy brains. We show human tau strains seed different types and cellular distributions of tau neuropathology in our model that recapitulate the heterogeneity seen in these human diseases.
Tau is a microtubule-associated protein implicated in neurodegenerative tauopathies. Alternative splicing of the tau gene (MAPT) generates six tau isoforms, distinguishable by the exclusion or inclusion of a repeat region of exon 10, which are referred to as 3-repeat (3R) and 4-repeat (4R) tau, respectively. We developed transgenic mouse models that express the entire human MAPT gene in the presence and absence of the mouse Mapt gene and compared the expression and regulation of mouse and human tau isoforms during development and in the young adult. We found differences between mouse and human tau in the regulation of exon 10 inclusion. Despite these differences, the isoform splicing pattern seen in normal human brain is replicated in our mouse models. In addition, we found that all tau, both in the neonate and young adult, is phosphorylated. We also examined the normal anatomic distribution of mouse and human tau isoforms in mouse brain. We observed developmental and species-specific variations in the expression of 3R- and 4R-tau within the frontal cortex and hippocampus. In addition, there were differences in the cellular distribution of the isoforms. Mice transgenic for the human MAPT gene exhibited higher levels of neuronal cell body expression of tau compared to wildtype mice. This neuronal cell body expression of tau was limited to the 3R isoform, whereas expression of 4R-tau was more "synaptic like," with granular staining of neuropil rather than in neuronal cell bodies. These developmental and species-specific differences in the regulation and distribution of tau isoforms may be important to the understanding of normal and pathologic tau isoform expression.